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Text messages show Bresciani initially supported restrictive media rules on athletics

FARGO--Earlier this week, North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani announced he was "profoundly disappointed" in restrictions on the media instituted by the university's athletics department, but in text messages to Athletic Directo...

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columnist Rob Port

FARGO-Earlier this week, North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani announced he was "profoundly disappointed" in restrictions on the media instituted by the university's athletics department, but in text messages to Athletic Director Matt Larsen he struck a much different tone.

I obtained a copy of the text messages through an open records request for any cellphone text messages sent between Bresciani and any other member of the NDSU administration pertaining to the media rules. You can read all of the texts that request produced at sayanythingblog.com, but the exchanges between Bresciani and Larsen are perhaps the most pertinent.

They appear to begin with Bresciani responding by text to a call and two texts from Larsen on Friday, July 29, the day the new restrictions on media coverage of Bison athletics were released to local media outlets. The first text states that Larsen wanted to talk with Bresciani about new media rights policies, beginning an exchange that extends into Saturday morning.

In texts to Larsen, Bresciani doesn't express any disappointment in the media rules. Far from it. He supports Larsen in his efforts to justify the rules to the media, and cracks jokes with him about critical coverage of the rules coming from the The Forum.

The rules, which Bresciani rescinded Tuesday, Aug. 2, would have prohibited live streaming of press conferences, radio shows from the Fargodome on game days, extensive live-blogging of Bison games and interviews with coaches and players that aren't approved in advance. NDSU officials said they were meant to protect the rights of the media companies that had broadcast rights to Bison games.

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Larsen says in a text to Bresciani that if Forum Communications Co. had won its bid for rights to broadcast Bison games the company would want the same media restrictions. "Of corse (sic) and great point!" Bresciani responded.

"To make you smirk...Kohlpack (sic) just texted Kristi to make his case," Bresicani texted to Larsen, referring to Forum sports reporter Jeff Kolpack. I'm not sure who "Kristi" is.

Bresciani also texted to Larsen that "Marcil will launch on me" about the rules. The chairman of Forum Communications is Bill Marcil Sr. His son, Bill Marcil Jr., is the company's CEO and publisher of The Forum.

At 8:51 a.m. Saturday, July 30, Bresciani texted:

"As you probably know, athletics is getting flamed on twitter. It's being portrayed as NO access, and that fans will have to go without Dom and Jeff," referring to Kolpack and WDAY sports reporter Dom Izzo.

Larsen responded that he'd been tracking the reaction. "Am going to circle the wagons to see if we need to send out a clarifying statement on Monday. It would clearly outline the limited restrictions that we have put in place."

Again, Bresciani condemned these media rules earlier this week. Compare and contrast what he said when he sent out a statement to overturn the rules (see below) with the tone of his texts above:

"I was profoundly disappointed when I learned the facts about this issue," Bresciani said in a news release Tuesday. "This is not the way NDSU treats local journalists and our many loyal fans who value the breadth of news coverage NDSU enjoys. As the state's land grant university, our commitment is to access and inclusion in all endeavors."

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Larsen also apologized in the release: "I erred in not bringing these ideas forward for the president's review, and I regret the damage this has caused to the administration, institution and university community."

For Bresciani to say he was "profoundly disappointed" when he first learned of the restrictive and ridiculous media rules simply does not jibe with his texts to Larsen, where he supported efforts to defend the rules and even mocked those critical of them.

In a text apparently sent Monday, Bresciani was even telling Larsen to "control the spin":

Bresciani text to Larson: "Remember to control the spin as much as you can. You are 'adjusting' (not changing) process, because of fan reaction (not media or other pressures). Own the decision as yours not something you were told you had to do. I'll back that...especially because you DID agree rather than force it."

Why would Bresciani be urging Larsen to spin these media rules which he later claimed he was "profoundly disappointed" in?

Anyone reading these texts can conclude that Bresciani first tried to defend the restrictive new media rules and, when that didn't work, decided to throw his athletic director under the bus while portraying himself as the hero on the white horse who got rid of the rules. Which is not, I think, an accurate portrayal of what happened.

I hope that North Dakota's State Board of Higher Education, which earlier this year delayed renewal of Bresciani's contract pending improvement in his job performance, are paying attention.

Asked Friday night for comment from Bresciani on whether the texts show he initially supported the rules, NDSU spokeswoman Sadie Rudolph provided this statement:

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"If you refer back to the statement we released on Tuesday, it does indicate that President Bresciani was disappointed when he learned the facts surrounding the issue. His opinion did evolve and so our statement from Tuesday does address your question."

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North Dakota State University president Dean Bresciani testified against SB 2330 in front of the Government and Veterans Affairs Committe on Thursday morning in Bismarck. Bresciani told committee members it is a students responsibility to know the rules before going to vote. TOM STROMME/Bismarck Tribune (Must credit Bismarck Tribune)

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